There’s a greater need for skilled economic development professionals as a result of COVID-19. Municipalities have been hammered by taxes they can take in and support services have diminished with funds redirected to other costs associated with fighting the pandemic. As a result, experts are saying that economic recovery won’t be short term, so there will be a need for strategic economic development that combines resiliency and sustainability.
This was the topic of discussion at a recent free webinar from The Chang School of Continuing Education on Local Economic Development, featuring Frank Miele, Academic Coordinator and Instructor.
“The role of economic development professionals is more important than ever,” said Frank. “They are aware of the needs of the business community and should be engaging the community in how they can help them whether providing agricultural programs in a rural area or in construction, media, and manufacturing sectors.”
The Chang School Blog recently spoke with Frank as well as a fellow Chang School local economic development instructor, Delia Reiche. We asked them about how economic developers are looking at resiliency and sustainability as key factors in the economic recovery in a post-COVID-19 world. Here’s what they had to say.
Communities are looking at what they need to do to make sure their economy remains resilient. Not only will this be important post-pandemic, but also right now as many Canadian provinces are experiencing a second wave.
Resiliency is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, but as Frank points out, COVID-19 is not going to be easy to “bounce back” from because it’s very hard to contain. “More education and communication with the business community is needed. People don’t realize the impact to the community at large. Governments need to be a bit more proactive. The agricultural sector needs a boost,” he said, adding that the U.S. government has given billions of dollars in subsidies to its farmers.
Aside from financial support, Delia, who is also Development Liaison for the County of Brant in southwestern Ontario as well as Past President and current board member of the Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO), said measures that reduce red tape, such as allowing another extension of the Canada Revenue Agency remittance payment due date, would be beneficial. This would give businesses consistent cash flow to help them offset any losses or costs associated with the pandemic. “This will allow businesses to pick themselves up and brush themselves off and forge ahead without being bogged down with CRA accounts,” she says. However, she adds that resilience is about more than help from the government. “Resiliency comes from companies. They will survive (the pandemic) because they changed the way they did business.”
Ultimately though, Frank says springing back from the negative economic impacts starts with solutions to the pandemic, namely a vaccine.
Renewed Focus on Sustainability
Sustainability has been a buzzword in business for sometime and it’s often referred to as making a connection between the economy and a greener environment. The pandemic has forced many people to rethink how they live their lives, including what impact they have on the environment.
On a micro level, Frank says ecological sustainability looks like turning off the lights when you walk out of a room, turning the water off when washing dishes by hand instead of leaving it running, or using your car to do five or six errands in a day instead of one at a time over several days.
But as Frank explains, the definition of sustainability is not only about maintaining ecological balance but also economic sustainability, which he says is more the key, especially when talking about recovery in a post-pandemic world. Businesses that are economically sustainable are those that are willing to take on short term pain, for long term sustainability, as Delia points out.
“Companies that were able to re-evaluate and reassess their priorities, vision, and planning are the ones that have become more sustainable,” she says, adding that businesses thinking ahead are investing in new technologies related to automation and green energy.
As many parts of the world enter the second wave of the Coronavirus, uncertainty continues to dominate. But businesses that can prove resilient and sustainable throughout all of this, will have the best chance at survival.
The four-course Certificate in Local Economic Development can be completed fully online and its curriculum is aligned to the current competencies and foundational knowledge areas represented by the Economic Developers Association of Canada (EDAC).